The Slipstream: April showers to May horsepower
5 May, 2010
May.5 (Geoffrey Hunton) We welcome on board Geoffrey Hunton with his The Slipstream column to YallaF1.com. Geoffrey has been providing us with a USA perspective of Formula 1 for some time on Team YallaF1.com Bloggers site and from now on we present these insights here. Welcome The Slipstream!
I would like to thank YallaF1.com’s Team Captain and all of the staff for moving the Slipstream over on to the main site. For those of you new to the Slipstream, this is a unique look at the world of Formula One from an American perspective. I look forward to the comments and feedback the Slipstream may bring.
Out of the rain of April and into one of the busiest months in motor sport, the month of May holds a big place on the motor sport calendar. There are three Grand Prix this month (Spain, Monaco, and Turkey) along with big name events like the Indy 500 and the NASCAR All-Star Race followed by the Coca-Cola 600, Sprint Cup’s longest race of the year.
Four stories have escaped from the pre-season cold of Europe and emerged as the most talked about and important stories coming out of the Middle East and Asia. The first story was not about a driver or rivalry, but the weather.
From the rain to the volcano that left the teams and officials stranded in Shanghai for a few days, the weather has played a decisive role in Jenson Button leading the championship fight and adding substantial credibility to his title defense.
I am sure Bernie is deep in thought on how to manipulate the weather if it will bring the level of excitement it brought to the Grand Prix of China.
The level of racing this year, save for Bahrain has been impressive, with over taking and fighting for every single position. McLaren’s wet weather pace has been nothing short of amazing. With the aid of masterful driving from Jenson Button, the Woking based team have managed to leave most of the other teams fighting for third spot on the podium.
The only thing preventing McLaren from being the clear favorites during this three race May stretch is that their dry weather pace was not impressive. But if it stays damp and Jenson is on the top of his game, I do not think Lewis or anybody else for that matter will be able to beat him.
The evolution of the new aerodynamic rules was another story that has proven to be one of great interest. After a year of getting used to the new design of the cars, I am really growing to like the clean lines of these new machines.
The McLaren F-Duct was a topic of debate as the season started, as was the double diffuser of last season and dozens of other technical innovations over the years. Personally, I admire these minor devices because it shows that F1 is a true innovator of design and technical competition.
I was in favor of the KERS system last year because it brought true cutting edge technology that could be applied to street cars. The only down side to relaxed rules is that the team budgets would sky rocket, even though I believe the pay off would be in better racing.
These new cars, and the ban on refueling might be the perfect formula the series was looking for after nearly a decade of run away spending. It also gives the series more creditability as the global economy continues to recover.
Jenson Button leading the world championship and being included in the group I am calling the “Favorite Five” (Button, Hamilton, Massa, Alonso, and Vettel) is something that cannot be taken for granted. Many saw Button’s move to McLaren as a money grab, and Hamilton was expected leave his countryman in the dust as team leader.
That is not the case, and Hamilton is in a very delicate position. If Lewis pushes too hard he risks coming off looking like the spoiled child he portrayed in 2007. If Lewis does not push hard enough however, he risks assuming a role he has yet to play in his career, the one as the number two driver, on his McLaren team. This growing rivalry at McLaren is something to watch in the months ahead.
A smaller but slightly more manufactured situation is growing within Ferrari. Right after Alonso was announced as Massa’s teammate the press went into the same mode they went into during the Alonso vs. Hamilton conflict of 2007.
Two very strong personalities like Massa and Alonso would be almost impossible to contain in any team except Ferrari. This faux conflict created mainly by the press started to grow as the series made it’s tour across the Pacific after Alonso’s lucky win in Bahrain. A few jinks and jukes later in China and the press have already declared that Massa and Alonso are at war inside the Ferrari garage.
It seems as though the two men cannot compete on the track without the press declaring some form of conflict. These drivers are fighting for the highest prize in motor sport, let them earn their keep without creating the personal drama that McLaren is accustomed to.
The fastest driver on the grid from last season, Sebastian Vettel finally managed to win after the car let him down in Bahrain and Australia. With the championship nearly falling out of his reach this early in the year, I cannot imagine the relief it was to finally win in Malaysia.
Vettel’s pure speed is limited only by the durability of his car. Vettel’s situation is very similar to Kimi Raikkonen’s world title loss to Fernando Alonso in 2005. While I am not saying it is over for Vettel, it does appear that the Red Bull’s have a glass jaw, albeit a very aerodynamically efficient glass jaw designed by Adrian Newey.
The fourth big storyline to emerge out of the first few races was the return of Michael Schumacher. Many in the media have been very quick to accuse the seven time world champion of doing discredit to his name by coming back and not performing up to the great expectations. The prospect of Michael vs the world was very appealing and the entire Speed TV F1 broadcast team were nearly giddy with anticipation of Lewis Hamilton dueling Michael on track instead of Lewis or his surrogates in the press making grandiose claims.
While I believe Michael can and will win again, it does appear that his role in Formula 1 has changed after watching him drive in the middle of the grid. The only other time I have seen him fight so hard on the track was his “final” race in Brazil of 2006. He seems to duel with the younger drivers quite well, and in dueling with them, he is showing them how to race on the edge, but to race with class and absolute intensity.
I cannot help but be reminded of a recent event in the NASCAR Sprint Cup where veteran driver Carl Edwards, wrecked and sent airborne, rookie driver Brad Keselowski. In a post wreck interview, Edwards justified the incident by saying “he knows the situation” and that it was just payback for incidents between the two over the past year. NASCAR would come to Edwards’ defence later that week, essentially justifying wrecking a rookie driver at over 180mph as a “teaching lesson” for the rookie, even though Keselowski’s car nearly went into the grand stands.
Michael is demonstrating how to educate the rookie drivers on the track in way that teaches them how to drive the car on the edge, but also racing a clean competitive race. Schumacher continues to be a class act in ways other driver may never even realize possible.
As the F1 circuit returns to Europe and the cars undergo their first large addition of modifications the contest between the Favorite Five will only intensify from here. Can Alonso match Jorge Lorenzo’s MotoGP victory on home soil with a Grand Prix win in Barcelona? Can Button hold off Hamilton? Will Massa manage to get his first win of the year? Will Red Bull and Vettel be able to stage a comeback with their blinding pace?
All of those questions and more will be answered as Favorite Five and the rest of the F1 line up take the grid in Barcelona. One this is certain though, the Slipstream will be here providing a unique take on the Formula One world all the way through to the finale in Abu Dhabi and beyond. Thank you for reading and the Slipstream will be back next week with post-race awards and commentary.